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R E P O R T
2001 Graduate Teaching Assistant Orientation and Ongoing Development
Survey was conducted online in the summer of 2001.
This biennial survey collects information from all departments
with graduate programs with regard to departmental activities for GTA
training and development. According
to SACS guidelines, The University of Alabama must document that all
departments employing GTAs provide initial and ongoing training and
supervision of those GTAs.
Thirty-five (35) departments submitted completed surveys in 2001. The departments of Biological Sciences and Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics each submitted separate reports for GTAs teaching in the classroom and GTAs teaching lab classes for a total of thirty-seven (37) responses. At the time of the survey, these thirty-five departments had 302 graduate teaching assistants individually approved by the Graduate School as meeting the SACS 18-hour requirement.
survey consisted of three main sections: initial departmental activities
for GTAs prior to stepping into the classroom, ongoing GTA development
and supervisory activities, and planned changes for 2001-2002. These
include The University’s Annual Workshop for GTAs, but represent what
departments do individually to prepare their GTAs for teaching
ACTIVITIES Before/During First Semester as GTA:
departments reported the following orientation and initial training
activities prior to and during the first semester of a GTA’s teaching
whether or not their GTAs normally take a course in teaching methods
before they teach, ten (10) said yes; twenty-five (25) said no.
Eight (8) of these departments require the course; two do not.
Of those departments requiring their GTAs take a specific course
offered by the department, nine (9) departments give academic credit.
For instance, in Women’s Studies, GTAs are required to take WS
503: Teaching Women’s Studies, for which they receive 3 hours credit,
and in the Department of Communication Studies, GTAs must take COM 501
“Introduction to Teaching Public Speaking,” but receive no credit.
the twenty-five (25) departments that do not require their students to
take a specific methods course, three (3) require prior teaching
experience and five (5) have optional courses available in teaching
methods. Thus, a little over half of the departments require a teaching
methods course, offer an optional teaching course, or require prior
of the reasons that many departments do not offer specific courses is
because different GTAs have different levels of experience when they
enter a graduate program. For
instance, many GTAs in Elementary and Secondary Education come into
their program with “lengthy” experience in classroom teaching at the
elementary and secondary levels. But
at the university, they have a need for training focused on research
related to the teaching of adults, since the GTAs are better able to
implement the implications of that research in their current teaching
responsibilities with college-aged students. Computer Sciences, which relies extensively on GTAs for grading
papers and other non-student-contact activities, would have different needs.
Thus training needs vary widely from department to department or
even within one department. For
example, GTAs in the School of Music work in a variety of areas, each
having a different system of orientation, observation and evaluation.
GTAs teaching Music Theory are not assigned classroom
responsibilities until they have completed at least two semesters as lab
assistants as well as completed a pedagogy of theory course.
GTAs teaching Music Appreciation are required to take a seminar
on the teaching of such courses, and GTAs teaching Applied Music do so
only after completing an appropriate graduate pedagogy course.
In-class Experience and Supervision
a GTA is in the classroom, twenty (20) out of the thirty-five (35)
departments require them to work as in-class assistants at The
they assume full classroom responsibilities.
In addition, twenty-seven (27) out of thirty-five departments
either assign the GTA a mentor or allow the GTA to choose a mentor to
oversee their teaching.
were asked whether they also provided the following: additional
workshops, videos, syllabi, handouts, handbook/manual, or lecture materials.
All but one department provides at least two (2) of these
teaching aids; the overwhelming majority (81%), provide four or more. Chemistry, for instance, provides safety training and
weekly communications on hazard warnings, chemical handling and
disposal. Obviously the
needs of such a department are essential as part of the ongoing training
of their GTAs.
Of the twenty-five (25) departments that do not offer a
specific teaching course, 15 require their GTAs to work as in-class
assistants, 20 require mentors, 3 provide alternate workshops, 22
provide syllabi, 21 provide handouts, 9 provide a handbook and 15
provide lectures. It should
be noted that the GTAs in some departments such as Geography and Biology
oversee students working on established laboratory assignments and much
of their interaction with students is devoted to answering questions on
a one-to-one basis and are not responsible for full-length lecture
materials. More experienced
GTAs and faculty in these lab settings always supervise GTAs.
History and Anthropology are also examples of this kind of
situation. In History, GTAs conduct
only discussion sections of large survey courses under the
direct supervision of professors who retain overall responsibility for
the course. GTAs having
sole responsibility for classes is rare and only if they are doctoral
students who have already completed their comprehensive examinations.
Anthropology GTAs may give a lecture or two or conduct one-hour
section meetings, but this is up to the discretion of the supervisory
DEVELOPMENTS ACTIVITIES After First Semester as GTA:
Teaching and Learning
whether the department encouraged GTAs to have their undergraduate
students use resources available at the Center for Teaching and Learning
(CTL), 16 said yes; 14, no; and 5, N/A.
Specific resources recommended were tutors (6), videos (5),
Writing Center (3), study skills workshop (3), lectures (2), Reading
Center (1), counseling (1), assistance with learning disabilities (1),
CTL Handbook (1), old exams (1), books (1), independent study labs (1),
and CTL teaching evaluations (1).
Progress and Performance
(27) of the departments conduct regular meetings with their GTAs. Eleven (11) have weekly meetings, four (4) meet monthly,
seven (7) meet two or three times a semester, one meets once a semester,
and four departments meet at the discretion of the professor.
meetings are conducted both individually and in groups.
Eight (8) departments meet individually with their GTAs, eight
(8) meet in groups, and ten (10) departments do both.
Most departments (26) do not use videotaping. Of those that do, only the MA- TESOL program reported doing it “regularly.” Management reported that “we’ve done it, but we don’t use it with every student.” Communication Studies videotapes their GTAs two times a semester, Educational Psychology does “sometimes,” Kinesiology does “rarely,” Mathematics “sometimes,” and the Music Department uses it if the GTA is teaching in the areas of Theory or Music Education.
departments reported particular things their department does in addition
to the above items. For
example, in History, the supervisory professor must submit a report on
each GTA they are in charge of. Women’s
Studies, in addition to the specific course they require their GTAs to
take, as well as a full year of mentoring where GTAs observe and
practice teach, describe their supervisory process as “in-depth and
complete,” meant to foster a comfort and familiarity with the
undergraduate classroom and interdisciplinary teaching.
Criminal Justice and Advertising and Public Relations question
students about the GTA in classes where they teach.
Advertising and Public Relations also checks the graded work of
the GTA. In Geological
Sciences, faculty meet as a group to evaluate GTAs for award
recognition, to identify and resolve any problem areas, and to assign
students to particular courses. In
the Art Department, they distribute a departmental evaluation form that
is used to inform the GTA about their performance.
Opportunities Provided to Enhance GTA Development
were given a list of activities such as teaching seminars, visiting
scholar seminars, lectures, teaching colloquia, continued
mentoring/supervision, workshops, practicums, and focus groups for GTAs
to discuss concerns and needs as well as explore teaching issues and
provide varying methods of ongoing supervision after the first semester.
Thirteen (13) provided lectures, eleven (11) provided focus
groups, eleven (11) provided visiting scholar seminars, ten (10) gave
seminars, nine (9) provided colloquia, eight (8) provided workshops, and
four (4) provided practicums.
Thirty (30) departments provided at least one of these ongoing
activities. Seventeen (17)
departments provided three or more, with Management providing seven of
the eight mentioned above and Elementary Education providing all eight
to their GTAs.
departmental efforts include: encouraging students to take advantage of
available workshops on campus during the academic year (Educational
Psychology); having an “open-door” policy with GTAs where the
supervisor is available at home any time and is willing to take over GTA
duties in case of emergencies (Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics);
encouraging GTAs to participate in exam preparation with group
correction of final exams (Modern Language and Classics); use of a
specific text on teaching undergraduate science courses (Biological
Sciences); giving GTAs the opportunity to visit faculty lectures similar
to what they are teaching (Chemistry); and helping GTAs participate in
the Studio Foundations Program (Art).
CHANGES FOR 2001-2002:
were given the following list of changes that could be considered for
the immediate future to assist their GTAs.
These were the responses: requiring a course on teaching (3),
providing an optional course on teaching (2), having more class visits
by faculty members and/or veteran GTAs (14), expanding teaching evaluations (3), videotaping GTAs
(3), increasing mentoring/supervision (12), refining the mentoring
process (7), team teaching (3), rotating faculty members in charge of
GTAs (5), having more meetings with GTAs (6), providing colloquia or
seminars on teaching (7), developing a handbook or manual for GTAs (4),
assembling a task force or committee to address GTA issues (0),
developing a 2-day pre-orientation before the start of the Fall semester
(1), development of a resource bank (activities, ideas, handouts,
pictures, audio/video, PowerPoint and Web CT) (1), and shifting introductory
courses from traditional lecture/lab format to a studio format (1).
It is interesting to note that the most frequently considered changes center on supervisory issues: having more class visits by faculty members, increasing mentoring/supervision, and refining the mentoring process. For instance, Geography is switching to a different faculty member that will insure a “more regular and purposeful” program for GTAs than has been the case in the past. Biological Sciences seconds the desire for better training of GTA Coordinators. While time constraints on faculty members who supervise GTAs is a big concern, more skillful handling of GTAs could help the department run more smoothly and efficiently in the long run.
DESIRED ADDITIONAL SERVICES to be Provided by The University
departments had specific additional services that they would like to see
The University provide. Computer
Sciences suggested that basic handouts on course policies, University
policies, and “special” situations such as students with
disabilities, rude and abusive students, and sexual harassment be
provided. Geology noted the
success of the ITAP (International Teaching Assistant Program)
orientation for non-English speaking students that videotapes and
critiques each GTA prior to their entering the classroom.
Geology suggested that these activities be included in the Annual
GTA Workshop offered by the Graduate School.
This is a classic case of departments being ill informed of
opportunities that currently exist.
All the above suggestions/activities are currently a part of the
Annual Workshop. Perhaps
more could be done to insure that all departments fully understand the
nature of the required workshop and how essential it is in preparing GTAs for the
Education believes a solid course incorporating the research on
effective teaching, particularly focused on the teaching of adults and
how adults learn, should be required of all GTAs, particularly doctoral
Teaching and Learning has a faculty member who has taught such a course
at another university. They
suggest that this department should be asked to provide such a course
for doctoral students who are teaching assistants at The University, and
that each department should give credit for that course.
Since these doctoral candidates are likely to teach in a higher
education setting, they should take a course on instruction in higher
education that incorporates the research base that exists.
Teacher Education suggests providing opportunities for GTAs to develop
expertise in distant education techniques.
Art suggests a contemporary bibliography that outlines and
defines new trends in college/university teaching.
These could be incorporated into a class as suggested by
Elementary Education along with a component on how to supervise GTAs.
centered on funding needs. Modern
Languages and Classics would like increased funding for travel to
professional conferences and for research, more funding for the
acquisition of teaching resources and further technology training
opportunities for GTAs, and increased GTA stipends.
They argue that increasing stipends will assist in the
recruitment and retention of quality GTAs, increasing The University’s
competitive edge. Art
relies heavily on GTAs who teach classes and they have trouble growing
their program even though the role GTAs play is increasing in their
department. They need more
resources for assistantship support, and more logistical support for
GTAs, namely space for them to attend the Studio and Art History
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